Expert explains: what is the dopamine diet?

Expert explains: the dopamine diet

Billed as the weight-loss regime that boosts mood too, this diet is all about increasing levels of the ‘happy hormone’ dopamine and at the same time shedding pounds. Celebrities such as chef Tom Kerridge have supported this diet’s popularity in recent years. There are several different versions of the plan but all are based around foods that are thought to boost levels of dopamine.

What is the dopamine diet?

The dopamine diet is essentially a lowcarb, high-protein eating plan. There is emerging evidence to suggest that people who are overweight may have disruptions in how dopamine works in their body. This could be because the mechanism has been blunted through constant exposure to highly palatable (sugary and fatty) foods. This blunted response might lead to increased reward-seeking behaviour, including overeating, although we need more research to support this theory. The dopamine diet therefore aims to boost dopamine levels and regulate the mechanism to help control overeating and curb weight gain.

California Scramble Recipe

How does the dopamine diet work?

Amino acids are essential to the production of brain chemicals like dopamine. As protein foods are made up of amino acids, it has been suggested that upping your protein intake may support dopamine production without increasing your appetite. The dopamine diet combines high protein with reducing carbohydrate intake, for weight loss.

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However, it’s important to note that, to date, there have been no human studies that have shown eating more protein results in greater levels of dopamine in the brain. The amount of protein we each need is unique to us and depends on factors such as our age, health status and how active we are. Also, while the dopamine diet aims to curb unhealthy habits, the motivation to eat certain foods is complex and influenced by many different factors, including our genes, psychology, environment and culture. So, although increasing the protein contribution of your diet may improve appetite and fullness, it will still need to be combined with exercise and reducing high-fat, high-sugar foods.

Salmon Recipe With Pesto Sauce Crust

How to follow the dopamine diet?

Happily, the dopamine diet still includes eating a wide variety of foods. Dairy, unprocessed meats (such as chicken and turkey), omega-3-rich fish, eggs, fruit and veg are all recommended. Most versions of the diet recommend avoiding alcohol, caffeine and highly processed sugary or salty foods.

A simple place to start is to focus on achieving your five-a-day, consider the quality of the foods you eat and have regular meals – this will prevent a sudden swing in hormones and help regulate your appetite and dopamine response. For breakfast, try eating more lean protein, such as eggs, smoked salmon, mackerel or yogurt with added nuts, seeds or fruit. For lunch and dinner, try chicken, lentils, pulses, fish or lean beef. Choose healthy fats such as those found in olive, sesame or rapeseed oils in addition to avocado, walnuts, flaxseeds and oily fish like herring, salmon, mackerel and trout. Some versions of the dopamine diet also recommend cutting out or restricting carbohydrates.

However, it is important to remember that carbohydrates are important components of a balanced diet, so ensure you include starchy, wholegrain varieties in most meals. Aim for low-GI carbohydrates such as rye bread or oats – both will stabilise blood glucose levels and have a positive effect on appetite.

Three recipes to try as part of the dopamine diet

Healthy chicken and lentil salad

Chicken and lentils ramp up the protein in this easy salad, which you can have ready in under 30 minutes. Greens and a mustard dressing bring fibre and good fats too.

Chicken Salad Lentils, Beans and Mustard Dressing

Chorizo brunch eggs

This harissa-spiced stew, topped with eggs and avocado salsa, is packed with good fats. If you’re cutting back on carbs, you could always leave out the flatbread.

Chorizo Baked Eggs with Chopped Avocado in a Bowl

Chargrilled tuna with crunchy lemon bulgar salad

Mix up your wholegrains and try this lean tuna steak with a zingy lemon and bulgar wheat salad. It’s low in calories but impressively high in protein.

Tuna Steak with Bulgur Wheat Salad on Two Plates

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